Pixie’s Pen Pals is back in action! We are currently preparing our participants and partners to welcome the first dogs back into the prisons after three years on hold due to COVID-19.
Our program has a lot of moving parts, so we always need helping hands. If you are interested in working with Pen Pals pups or otherwise supporting the program, please check out ways to get involved and join the team.
Because we need to outfit each participating prison with pet supplies, we need a lot of items! We especially need new or gently used wire crates & beds of all sizes, and baby gates to contain the dogs when their Handlers cell doors are open. Anything off our Amazon Wishlist makes a massive difference, too!
Partnering with the Virginia Department of Corrections, FETCH A Cure’s Pixie’s Pen Pals places homeless dogs from local animal shelters in the care of men and women incarcerated at Virginia correctional centers.
With the guidance of professional canine behaviorists, inmates in the Pen Pals program serve as “Handlers” to train, socialize, and provide around-the-clock care for rescue dogs in preparation for adoption — all from within the prison.
We transfer an average of 80 dogs/year from shelters around Virginia. The dogs are trained and housed in the prison for a minimum of 8 weeks before “graduating” and moving into their loving adoptive homes!
Certainly, our program helps reduce overcrowding and euthanasia rates in Virginia’s shelters. But Pen Pals helps people as much as pups.
Our program supports the rehabilitation of people serving sentences in prison. Handlers learn and exercise skills and techniques that are useful both professionally and in life. By working cooperatively to help the animals, Handlers also practice effective communication, patience, and confidence.
Ultimately, the skills learned and responsibilities assigned to the Handlers helps prepare a person for life outside prison. After their release, some Pen Pals Handlers go on to work with animals… Some even becoming professional dog trainers themselves!
Most importantly, the opportunity to bond with a canine companion imparts countless benefits to mental health and overall well-being for both the Handler and dog.
Each time a dog graduates the program to go to her forever home, her Handler feels a sense of accomplishment and pride for all the work they’ve done to prepare the dog for a good life, leaving a smile on both ends of the leash.
Training our Handlers to Train Dogs
Trainer and Behavior Specialist Kasey Herrera devotes her time (and sometimes her home) to our Pen Pals program! Kasey teaches the Handlers a comprehensive, tailored curriculum that covers everything from the bare boned basics of pet care to complex canine and human psychology.
Kasey visits our Handlers weekly to work face-to-face with each person and dog inside the correctional facility. The group works collaboratively with Kasey to think of creative solutions for training dogs in their more restrictive prison environment.
Kasey often stays in touch with handlers who have been released and gone on to have careers in pet care and training.
Pixie’s Pen Pals is a program of the former Save Our Shelters. FETCH was chosen to run this program after the Save Our Shelters organization dissolved in 2010. The program continues on with FETCH a Cure, in honor of Pixie Williams, former director of the Save Our Shelters Pen Pals program. Pixie lost her battle to cancer in 2009. She was a strong advocate for animal welfare – first as an SOS volunteer, later as a board member, and then as president. In the last year of her life, Pixie served as the Director of Save Our Shelter’s Pen Pals program. Not only did Pixie have a passion for animals, she was a strong advocate for spay and neuter, as well as for the adoption of abandoned dogs and cats. We are inspired by Pixie and are committed to improving the quality of life for all animals.
Can I adopt a Pen Pals dog?
No, we do not have dogs available for adoption at this time.
We are preparing our Handlers to begin training their first dogs this Summer! Each dog will stay in their care until she is ready to be adopted. This can take anywhere from 8 weeks to many months depending on the needs of the dog and the objectives of the Handler.
What is the adoption process like?
All adopters need to fill out an adoption application. If the application is approved, our Pen Pals Coordinator will schedule a time for a home visit. During the home visit, the Pen Pals Coordinator will schedule a time for the adopters to go into the correctional facility to meet with the dog and his incarcerated Handlers. Please note that adoption visits take place on business hours on weekdays.
How much does it cost to adopt a Pen Pals dog?
The adoption fee for a Pen Pals dog is $300 for dogs 5 years and under and $200 for dogs 6 years and older. This fee covers spay/neuter, microchipping, vaccinations, heartworm tests/treatment, preventative medicine, and the dog’s training. When you adopt a dog, you also receive a 5.5 pound bag of Zignature dog food, collar, leash, harness, and a lifetime 5% discount on food from RedRidge Pet Market in Henrico.
Are there any prerequisites for adoption?
We will not adopt a dog out to a household in which a member has been convicted of an animal welfare law violation such as neglect, cruelty, abandonment, etc.
We require all other pets currently living in the prospective adopter’s household to be up to date on vaccinations and spayed or neutered.
While adopters are not required to have a yard or a fenced-in yard, we prohibit the use of electric/invisible fencing.
When can I go into the prison?
Adoption visits are conducted during business hours on weekdays. Please make arrangements to come to the prison within those hours.
What will my dog know?
The training of each dog is different based on the needs of the individual dog. All dogs work on leash walking skills, house training, crate training, and general manners. The training curriculum is based on the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen test.
Can you help me rehome or surrender my own dog?
No, we do not accept animals from the public.
We partner with local shelters to identify dogs for the program. We ourselves are not a shelter.
How can I support your program?
You can still support Pen Pals beyond adopting a dog yourself! We always need supplies, whether purchased through our Amazon Wishlist or donated gently used. If you aren’t sure what to give, monetary donations all go back to support the program.
Foster homes and other volunteers are crucial to the success of our program! Please fill out a Volunteer Application and sign up to receive updates on upcoming opportunities… We have a FETCH Volunteer Sign Up as well as a Pen Pals specific list. Email email@example.com to learn more.